Many unions and school distracts in the United States are discussing the need to base salaries and retention on the evaluation of teachers. Methods to evaluate the teachers include improvement in students’ test scores, analysis of teachers’ lesson plans and observation of classes by principals, department chairs or peers. Some universities and publishers are developing observation schemes so that when lessons are observed the teacher will know what the observers are looking for.

I have not seen one person suggest that teacher development would be more likely if teachers observed and analyzed their own interactions rather than be subjected to evaluation by outsiders, at least initially. After a few weeks, mutual discussion of transcriptions and student work is beneficial. By mutual I mean not only teachers having pair discussions by involving students in the detailed analysis of the interactions as well.

Nor have I seen anyone suggest that teachers should record and transcribe interactions from a couple of their classes at least once a week. Finally, I have not heard anyone suggest that we can learn a great deal both about what we are doing and the effects with transcripts that fit on one 8 ½ by 11 (A4) sheet of paper.

But the analysis of a small amount of data from many different perspectives is common in science. Here is a description of how Louis Rodolphe Agassiz (May 28, 1807 – December 14, 1873) a Swiss paleontologist, glaciologist, geologist and a prominent innovator in the study of the Earth’s natural history who was a professor at Harvard University followed this method.

“When I sat me down before my tin pan, Agassiz brought me a small fish, placing it before me with the rather stern requirement that I should study it, but should on no account talk to any one concerning it, nor read anything relating to fishes until I had his permission so to do. To my inquiry “What shall I do?” he said in effect: ‘Find out what you can without damaging the specimen; when I think that you have done the work I will question you.’ In the course of an hour I thought I had compassed that fish; it was rather an unsavory object, giving forth the stench of old alcohol, then loathsome to me, that in time I came to like it. Many of the scales were loosened so that they fell off. It appeared to me to be a case for a summary report, which I was anxious to make and get on to the next stage of the business. But Agassiz, though always within call, concerned himself no further with me that day, nor the next, nor for a week. At first this neglect was distressing; but I saw that it was a game, for he was, as I discerned rather than saw, covertly watching me. So I set my wits to work upon the thing, and in the course of a hundred hours or so thought I had done much—a hundred times as much as seemed possible at the start. I got interested in finding out how the scales went in series, their shape, the form and placement of the teeth, etc. Finally I felt full of the subject and probably expressed it in my bearing; as for words about it then, there were none from my master except his cheery ‘Good morning.’ At length on the seventh day, came the question ‘Well?’ and my disgorge of learning to him as he sat on the edge of my table puffing his cigar. At the end of the hour’s telling he swung off and away saying, ‘That is not right.’ Here I began to think that after all perhaps the rules for scanning Latin verse were not the worst infliction in the world. Moreover, it was clear that he was playing a game with me to find if I were capable of doing hard, continuous work without the support of a teacher and this stimulated me to labor. I went at the task anew, discarded my first notes, and in another week of ten hours a day labor I had results which astonished myself and satisfied him. Still there was no trace of praise in words or manner. He signified that it would do by placing before me about a half a peck of bones, telling me to see what I could make of them, with no further directions to guide me.” From The Autobiography of Nathaniel Southgate Shaler, 1909.

Teachers do not have the luxury of having as much time as Nathaniel had as a student at Harvard. But they do have the same ability he had. And their one-page transcripts can be their fish and peck of bones.

When I am invited by teachers to join their conversations about their transcripts they universally say that what they thought they had been doing and what they actually did were different. They have also consistently said that they were able to see and hear what their students were saying and doing that was very different from what they had thought they said and did while they were teaching. During the half hour or so teachers spend on analysis of each 1 sheet transcript, they simultaneously see how they can change the tasks they have given. Said another way, analyzing and planning go hand in hand.

More and more doctors are having their operations video taped. Sports teams regularly watch video clips from their games.

922 words Grade Level 10 Flesch Reading Ease 62%